Since taking office in 1999, Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba has become one of the best recognised mayors in the world
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Mayor of Hiroshima determined to make
his city a symbol of peace and prosperity
21 October 2004: For 60 years the city of Hiroshima has been warning the world about nuclear weapons, but five years ago, with the election of Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, Hiroshima finally became a player on the international stage. Having graduated from both Tokyo University and MIT in Boston, and having lived nearly 20 years in the U.S., Akiba is a rarity among Japanese politicians: bilingual, and thoroughly cosmopolitan. Equally rare are his commitments to peace, the abolition of nuclear weapons, environmental protection, and open, transparent, democratic government. The mayor was short-listed for the 2008 World Mayor Award.
Update 11 April 2011: In mayoral elections held on 10 April 2011, Kazumi Matsui was elected as new mayor of Hiroshima.
Since becoming mayor in 1999, Akiba has been working hard to help Hiroshima live up to its image as the International Peace Culture City. He has been fighting to make Hiroshima’s rivers clean enough to swim in. He has overseen a great improvement in waste management. Today, the people of Hiroshima divide their trash into eight categories, and Hiroshima discards less waste per capita than any other city of similar size in Japan.
Mayor Akiba has devoted a great deal of energy to modernizing government and using information technology to expedite a broad range of procedures. As a result, the city of Hiroshima is among the most advanced local governments in Japan. The improved speed and efficiency are quite popular with residents, and have even earned favourable attention overseas. At the Asia-Pacific Summit in Seattle (U.S.) in 2001, the mayor of the host city commented: “Hiroshima is the city to watch when it comes to the electronic city hall.”
Akiba has also been fighting to make city government more transparent and evenhanded. He has been dismantling the back-room machines that have for years been making certain types of city decisions. By implementing a fairer and more effective bidding system for public works projects and by instituting a referendum system for direct citizen participation, he has made municipal decision making more democratic.
Meanwhile, he has greatly reduced gang activity among youth. Mobilizing the police and training volunteers to walk the streets at key times and places, he has enforced discipline, but he has also sought to go to the roots of gang activity. Hiroshima now offers various forms of individual guidance, counselling, and assistance that help many angry young men find more productive ways to relate to their families and the broader community.
Mayor Akiba’s greatest achievements, however, lie in the realms of international business and peace. Using his wide network of non-Japanese contacts, as well as his English, he has met with government and business leaders around the world, encouraging economic and cultural interaction. He has greatly strengthened Hiroshima’s economic and cultural interaction with its sister cities, and has launched an exciting programme expected to increase the number of foreign and Japanese visitors to Hiroshima from 37 million to 70 million by the year 2010. He has successfully invited numerous companies, including General Motors and Itar Giugiaro Design, to do business with local companies or to actually locate a facility in or near Hiroshima. Further, he pursues economic development without abandoning his environmental protection principles, seeking always to ensure that incoming operations are as clean as possible.
In the nuclear disarmament community, Tad Akiba is becoming a star. Beginning with a speech and a workshop in Geneva at the 2003 preparatory committee for the review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), Akiba has inspired a powerful upsurge in anti-nuclear activism. As president of the Mayors for Peace, he has increased by one-third the number of member cities. (Mayors for Peace now boasts 629 city members in 109 countries and regions (as of 19 October, 2004), including the capitals of all the nuclear-weapon states except Islamabad and Washington.) In November 2003, the Mayors for Peace, supported by the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, launched an Emergency Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons. This campaign has since received strong endorsements in resolutions passed by the European Parliament, the Conference of U.S. Mayors, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), and Abolition 2000. In fact, Mayor Akiba and Mayors for Peace won this year’s Global Citizen Award from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.
As a part of this campaign, last April Akiba led a delegation of 19 mayors and deputy mayors from 12 countries to the NPT Preparatory Committee Meeting at UN Headquarters in New York. By speaking to national delegates, taking part in NGO lobbying activities, and meeting with Parliamentarians for Peace and the New York City Council, this delegation contributed enormously toward making the nuclear threat an urgent issue. The next goal of the campaign is to bring 100 mayors to New York for the NPT Review Conference in May 2005, and to facilitate anti-nuclear demonstrations in New York and hundreds of cities around the world.
In addition to this campaign, Akiba, a former university professor, is working hard to get Hiroshima-Nagasaki Peace Study courses established in colleges and universities around the world. The atomic bombings have never received the academic analysis they deserve, and with the average age of the A-bomb survivors (hibakusha) now over 72, finding new ways of passing on the A-bomb memory is an urgent task. Akiba has recently traveled to India, Pakistan, England, France, Germany, Russia, the U.S., Canada and China to make personal appeals to university presidents and professors. In nearly every case, he has successfully aroused interest in the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Peace Study Project. Several institutions of higher learning (many universities in Japan; American University in Washington, D.C., Tufts University in Boston, where Akiba taught, and Illinois Wesleyan University in the U.S.; Berlin Technology Institute and Paris Institute of Political Studies in Europe) have already begun offering courses or seminars, and many more are in the planning stages.
Mayor Akiba is a respected leader in the most critical movement of this decade: the campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons. The survival of our civilization may well depend on his success.
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